Overall, this album is as electric as Tonic was acoustic. It doesn’t really have the relatively slick dance power of Combustication or Shack Man, but this album clearly isn’t meant to be compared to the group’s earlier work. Fear not, Tonic lovers, the interaction is just as strong as it was on their last effort, and the group pokes its head well out of the pocket without losing its pants. As usual, MMW has come up with something very original, but with clear nods to their influences (70s Miles Davis & Herbie Hancock, Sun Ra, 60's Blue Note organ trios). For a band that’s always heading in several new directions at once, this album is remarkably focused – not for its consistency of genre, but for its consistency of sound. This is a tough album to get a feel for after only a single listen. It’s got a lot of grit, and a whole lot of different, unusual sounds. And the groove is still there, as is the exploratory “screw the critics” vibe. Here’s the blow-by blow:
The opening track, “We Are Rolling,” is high-energy, noisy aggression a la Tony Williams Lifetime Turn It Over, melting into some 70s Miles Davis space funk, propelled by Billy Martin’s relentless groove. “Big Time,” “Partido Alto,” and “Philly Cheese Blunt” are funky groovers, reminiscent of their earlier work on Friday Afternoon and It’s a Jungle, but with a grittier sound. On “Felic” MMW gets some assistance from special guest Marshall Allen (of Sun Ra Arkestra fame, mistakenly listed in the liner notes as being on track 4), persistently exploring the outer realms of sound over a percolating Wood/Martin jungle-ish groove. “Illinization” is an eerie excursion over Martin’s march-like drums, tangled in a web of electronic sounds. Marc Ribot guest stars on guitar on “Bone Digger,” a gritty blob of electro space funk. Medeski pumps out some pretty twisted lines and grime on his organ. There are little snippets of things that sound vaguely familiar, but the track seems to end before it has really begun. “Note Bleu” starts out pretty smooth, with Ribot’s guitar adding a subtle but very distinctive calming element to the groove, blending quite well with Medeski’s organ. This track is all about subtlety, as Martin adds some very pretty percussion underneath the relatively sparse surface. Odd little background sounds and echoes abound on “The Dropper” giving it a very spacious feel. Very 70's Miles or even Herbie Hancock (Sextant), with breaks to give the impression of transitions. “Sun Sleigh” is an excellent percussion feature. Martin gets some great percussion sounds, including that now-signature whining dog sound. There’s also some surdo work by guest Paula Potocki. There are a lot of layers of sound in here, and this track in particular warrants repeated listening.
“Tsukemono” almost sounds as if it’s being played backwards. Guest violinist Charlie Burnham contributes some unusual sounds to the mix of loops and digitally warped fragments layered over a pretty standard, funky Martin/Wood groove. Don’t let your mom hear this one, or you risk a visit from an exorcist. “Shacklyn Knights” seems to have it all – grit, groove, interesting sounds, and edge. It features the brief little breaks that appear throughout the album, perhaps in tribute to 70s Miles. The main idea here is simplicity and groove, while retaining the sense of exploration. “Norah G” sounds like a 45rpm record being played at 33rpm. The sound on Martin’s drums, as well as his behind-the-beat feel, makes you feel like you’re trudging through mud. The thick textures of the guest strings seem to further congeal the gooey mix. I got the feel of something big and heavy (the bear in that old Bjork video?) stomping along, looking for a tasty tourist.
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JamBase Jazz Correspondent
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